A Study of Law School Based Legal Services Clinics

05 Jul 2011
A Study of Law School Based Legal Services Clinics

Summary

Recognising the growing importance of young legal professionals in facilitating access to justice by marginalised communities, the study examines innovative approaches and provides recommendations on managing law school-based legal services clinics.

 

The principle of rule of law and the philosophy of the Indian constitution in what is described as its basic structure mandates that every citizen should have reasonable access to justice. Yet this constitutional guarantee is a luxury for many facing problems of poverty, economic deprivation and want of education. A project therefore, was orchestrated to determine and propose the role that law schools could play in mitigating the prevailing injustices, official apathy and raising the competence bar of the budding professionals and also upgrading the general level of legal awareness of the community.

 

1. Purpose of the Study

 

The legal profession is expected to play a dynamic role in the administration of justice. Law Schools being the recruiting grounds for the legal profession, there is a need to inject new spirit into the content of legal education to make lawyers and legal professionals socially relevant and professionally competent to secure the constitutional mandate of access to justice.

 

However, the question of improving legal education by involving law students in the delivery of legal services, particularly to indigent and weaker sections in society, did not occur to or find favour with educational reformers for a long time. Similar failure appears to have been shown by the Legal Aid Authorities, who failed to recognize the potential of using legal educational institutions and students to reach the benefits of law to the poor, thereby aiding social justice and progress.

 

With the Bar Council of India (BCI) in 1997 making Legal Aid a compulsory practical paper to be taught in the Law Colleges all over India, Legal Aid to the poor got a new lease of life. Even though more than a decade has passed since the formal introduction of Legal Aid in Law School curricula in India, there is no comprehensive study examining the functioning of Law School based Legal Aid in India.

 

With this backdrop, the Access to Justice Project on “Study of the Law School based Legal Service Clinics” was undertaken in seven States: Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The study was intended to understand the functioning of legal aid cells established in these states by the law colleges and suggests ways and means to improve their functioning to act as effective instruments of access to justice.

 

This study assesses the state of Legal Service Clinics across Law Schools and Colleges in India, including whether they exist, the kind of activities they undertake, the frequency of such activities, the quality of the services rendered, the percentage of the student population that participates in these activities and the frequency of interaction with the community outside the college, specially the marginalized community. The study also focuses on collating national and international good practices relating to such Clinics.

 

2. Methodology

 

This study undertook a preliminary assessment to identify the representative sample in the project States. Further, certain information has been obtained by telephonic interviews fromthe Law Schools that have not responded to the preliminary questionnaire.

 

Based on these primary criteria and preliminary assessment there on, the researcher selected 39 Law School Clinics in seven States for the study. After due correspondence and communication a research team personally visited all the selected colleges and collected the necessary information. The information so gathered formed the basis of the findings of the study.

 

Simultaneously and concurrently, in order to suggest a viable and implementable system of legal aid clinics, the project also involved the study of seven institutions in other parts of India who have to their credit considerable legal aid based activities. Similarly twelve foreign law schools, four in USA, two in Australia and six in South Africa who have considerable experience in legal aid related activities were also studied. These model institutions were studied in order to suggest workable schemes or methods of conducting legal aid by law colleges in India.

 

3. Findings

 

It is found that nearly 82% of the colleges have designated faculty to conduct legal aid activity. But only a miniscule of them provides the facility of academic credit to the faculty in terms of workload/lecture hours and for the students in terms of grades or marks. This has considerably reduced the enthusiasm in the conductance of legal aid activity and many often consider them burdensome or additional work in the process the cause of legal aid is substantially dampened.

 

It is also found that the law colleges have spared very little effort in informing the community about their existence and availability of services. This wide gap has indeed substantially reduced the impact of free legal service by the law colleges.

 

In the area of legal representation, the records are dismal mainly because the law students or the faculty are not allowed to represent the clients in the court of law. Even in the area of providing legal advice or participation in client interviewing, the performance of the colleges -is much below the desired levels. Similar trends continued even in offering paralegal services and law reform.

 

One area in which majority of the colleges involved is conducting legal literacy programmes. However, the methods of conducting legal aid awareness programme is also not found to be very appropriate to the occasion as it mostly is limited to 'public talk' by some lawyer or the other with limited or no follow up services.

 

In the area of collaborations as well, the performance is not satisfactory. A few have been collaborating with the NGOs and others with the local government and local authorities like the Panchayats and Municipalities. In the area of promotion of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) and law reform activity, it is noticed that most of these colleges are ill equipped due to lack of adequate knowledge, absence and dearth of trained faculty, non -availability of information, and of course the overall absence of initiative and enthusiasm.

 

The selected colleges were also asked to identify in the order of priority, the specific reasons for their inability to act effectively and they are:

 

1. Lack of financial support

 

2. Restriction on faculty to practice

 

3. Absence of academic credit for students

 

4. Legal aid not being part of the work load for faculty

 

5. Lack of involvement of the bar

 

6. Lack of infrastructural facilities

 

7. Lack of involvement of judiciary

 

8. Restriction on students

 

9. Notraining of faculty

 

10. Lack of directive fromBCI

 

11. Absence of designated full time faculty

 

12. Poor student quality

 

13. Lack of trained faculty

 

14. Part time students

 

Above are indeed the areas in which the Government of India and other regulatory authorities like the Bar council of India, State governments and the affiliating university needs to focus their attention in order to ensure that not only that the quality of legal education maintained but also the nation's concern of access to justice is fulfilled.

 

4. Best Practices in India

 

The seven law schools selected for studying best practices engaged in variety of legal aid activities. A closer look at the programs undertaken by the seven colleges reveals that V.M. Salgaocar College and Jindal Law School are focused on Rural Good Governance as their primary focus through Legal Aid Cells. Symbiosis Law School has a unique program of providing Legal Aid by creating Legal Aid Fund and dedicating few lawyers to an adopted village. NUJS, West Bengal (which NUJS?) has several initiations in association with NGOs. Of late, National Law School, Bangalore seems to have lost its core Legal Aid programs. Indian Law Society, Pune had both in house and off campus Clinics. Students of JSS Law College, Mysore do a lot of legal literacy on their own initiation.

 

Other initiations by these colleges such as Para-legal services, public surveys, community empowerment programs, implementation of SocialWelfare Programs, Prison Clinics and Consumer Clinics have the potential of providing access to justice and could be replicated in different parts of the country.

 

5. Best Practices Foreign Law Schools

 

The Clinical programs in the selected foreign counties are way ahead compared to the programs in India. In most of these Clinics, Legal Aid is provided by the students with the help of trained practicing lawyers. Most of the Law Schools have dedicated faculty for Clinical programs. Most of the Clinics provide academic credit to the students involved in Clinical programs. There seems to be seriousness in offering quality Legal Aid to the marginalized section of the people.

 

clinical programs focusing on Legal Aid to the poor started in USA and India during 1960's, the Clinical programs in USA is way ahead compared to the programs in India. Initially the Clinical Programs in USA received Federal Grant and today most of the Law Schools in USA have welldeveloped and institutionalized Clinics offering several legal services to the community. Similar findings emerged from other countries. In most of the countries, Legal Aid is provided by the Law Schools Clinics with the help of trained practicing lawyers. Most of the Law Schools have dedicated faculty for Clinical Programs.

 

Several initiations undertaken by these Clinics could be a role model for Indian Law Schools. Particularly, Street Law Programs and Community Clinics undertaken by Law Schools in USA and South Africa have a great potential in India.

 

6. Suggestions and Recommendations

 

Legal Aid Clinics, unlike other initiatives, require modest financial investment to start with. They can be quickly assimilated into most Law Colleges as there is a mandatory requirement of BCI that each College shall have one Clinic in the College. A venture of this sort in bringing about access to justice requires the Law Colleges as well as the regulatory authorities including the Government of India, need to reframe and adopt a systemof collaborative venture and sharing of responsibilities.

 

6. Suggestions and Recommendations

 

Legal Aid Clinics, unlike other initiatives, require modest financial investment to start with. They can be quickly assimilated into most Law Colleges as there is a mandatory requirement of BCI that each College shall have one Clinic in the College. A venture of this sort in bringing about access to justice requires the Law Colleges as well as the regulatory authorities including the Government of India, need to reframe and adopt a systemof collaborative venture and sharing of responsibilities.

 

7. Future Plans

 

Merely identifying the status and problems of the Clinics in the seven States would serve no purposeunless a follow up program is undertaken to strengthen the Legal Aid Clinics. Therefore, there is a need for continuing this initiative in the following ways:

 

1. Faculty designated for Legal Aid need training and the students need to be trained in several skills that are required for organizing legal aid activities. Hence, a Training of Trainers Program (TOT) needs to be organized in each State. These programs need to be designed and conducted by expert faculty in Clinical Methodology. A nodal agency which is actually involved in Legal Aid may be identified for conducting training programs for the faculty of Law Schools in the project States.

 

2. Identifying five potential Law Schools fromeach State to strengthen their Clinics. Total 35 faculties from the identified Law Schools from seven States should be trained in Legal Aid. Two week intensive training program should be conducted to train these faculty members. These trained faculty memberswould strengthen the Clinics in their respective Colleges. Within a year, 35 Clinics in seven States would be functional.

 

3. This activity may be continued for five years and within five years there would be at least 25 Law Schools in each State with fully functional Clinics. The nodal agency would be monitoring the progress of the Clinics. A quarterly newsletter showcasing the activities carried by the selected Law School Clinics could be brought out.

 

4. A proper networking would be developed among these Clinics and at the end of the year a Conference on Legal Aid Clinics should be organized. The purpose of this Conference would be to involve students and faculty with other stake holders on a single platform to share the experiences and best practices among the Law Schools.

 

5. Identifying expert Clinical faculty to prepare Training Manuals on activities of Legal Aid.

 

6. Continue the same initiation in all other States.

 

7. Create awebsite for sharing the concerns and experiences.

 

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